Nathanael is told about Jesus, but is skeptical because Jesus is from Nazareth. Nothing good ever comes from Nazareth. Surely it would take a miraculous sign to change Nathanael's mind. Right?Greensburg Church of the Nazarene
**not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript**
BECAUSE OF THIS
What brought you to Jesus? That is the question as we examine this passage in the gospel of John. For me, I remember it was Camp Camby during the Indianapolis District kids’ camp. I was eight or nine, and during one of the songs I recognized I had been living outside the will of God and I needed to repent. But that is my story, what was it for you? Keep that in mind as we read.
READING THE TEXT: John 1:43-51
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (NRSV)
This is the Word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.
IN THE TEXT:
Verse 50 is our main focal point today. Jesus responds to Nathanael’s profession of faith with, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Nathanael declares faith in Jesus, Jesus chuckles and tells his new follower that this is only a drop in the bucket.
That statement for Nathanael also holds an important truth for us. But before we can understand why it matters to us, we need to know why it was said to Nathanael. To get to the why, we first how this interaction between Nathanael ended up in this conversation with Jesus.
***How Nathanael ends up in the conversation with Jesus***
This entire interaction begins with Jesus traveling to Galilee. You will notice that verse 43 does not introduce us to Nathanael, but another man called Philip. Philip is from Bethsaida, the same city as Andrew and Peter, two brothers who left careers as fishermen to follow Jesus.
Jesus finds Philip and says, “Follow me.” Notice what Jesus does not say to Philip. He does not tell Philip to first go be baptized, nor does Jesus tell him to go take membership classes and join the church. Those things are important, but Jesus never calls anyone to those things first. The call Jesus always gives first is “follow me.” Philip is not called to follow an idea or a religion, he is being called to follow a person, Jesus.
Philip accepts Jesus’s invitation and goes to find his friend, Nathanael. He tells Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.” (v45) It is through the writings of the Old Testament that Philip recognizes Jesus, since that was the only scripture available. What you and I have as the New Testament, Philip and the other disciples still needed to live out.
Nathanael has read the Old Testament; he knows what they say about the Messiah. The prophecies say the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (v46) Nazareth was a nowhere, nothing happened nor anyone ever important came from there. Philip is not rattled in his faith by Nathanael’s skepticism, he tells him, “Come and be surprised.” (v46) Despite his doubts, Nathanael goes with Philip to meet Jesus.
***Why Jesus says what he does to Nathanael***
Jesus sees Nathanael coming and says, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no trickery.” (v47) The nation of Israel is named after Jacob, who we read about in Genesis. Jacob was schemer and trickster, stealing the birthright from his brother Esau. But Jacob encounters God and it changes his life, to the point God changes Jacob’s name to Israel because of his faith. So, Jesus is praising Nathanael as a man of faith, who despite his skepticism is willing to investigate for himself.
Nathanael’s skepticism shifts to curiosity, Jesus knew him. The two had never met man to man, so Nathanael asks Jesus, “How do you know me?” (v48) Jesus responds with “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (v48) There is a lot of speculation about what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. But there are only two people that know what took place under that fig tree. Philp was not there. Only Nathanael and God (remember, Jesus is God in the flesh) know. And that was enough for Nathanael to put his faith in Jesus. “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (v49)
***Because of Nathanael’s faith in Jesus***
Now, the text does not describe the tone of Jesus’s response. But as it reads to me, I picture Jesus with somewhat of a chuckle, “You believe because of that?” (v50) Jesus is not being critical of Nathanael here, He sees Nathanael at the beginning of his faith. Later, Jesus will turn water to wine, open the eyes of the blind, make the lame walk, cast out demons, and even bring the dead to life. But even with all that, there are many who reject Jesus as the Messiah. However, Nathanael believes simply because Jesus knows him.
Jesus then says, “With eyes wide open, you will see greater things.” (v50) What are the greater things Nathanael will see because of his faith? “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (v51) There are two things here that help us understand the greater things Nathanael will see.
First, “Son of Man” is the title Jesus most uses for himself. Nathanael called Jesus, “the Son of God,” which is true. Jesus is fully God and fully human, but His favorite title for Himself (the one He uses for Himself more than any other is “Son of Man.” Why? Because the Jews believed Jesus was coming as conquering king, one that would free them from the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of David. “Son of Man” identifies Jesus as God with us, come to restore us as sons and daughters of God’s kingdom.
Second, the image of the “angels of God ascending and descending up the Son of Man,” is another reference to Jacob in the Genesis. Jacob has a dream where he sees a ladder from earth that reaches into heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12) Jesus was telling Nathanael that He was the ladder in Jacob’s dream, meaning He is the connection between heaven and earth. Because Nathanael had faith in Jesus, simply because Jesus knew him, Jesus lets him know that Nathanael would see even more than that. Jesus would show Nathanael more than he could ever possibly dream or imagine.
FROM THE TEXT:
How does this apply to us? Our question is, “what brought you to Jesus?” I cannot give you that answer, because that answer, just like Nathanael under the fig tree, is between you and God. Our response to that question reveals two things.
The first thing has to do with why you have faith in Jesus. Was it a need for His blood for the forgiveness of sin? Was it love? Healing? Or maybe you were like Nathanael, it was simply because Jesus knew you. Whatever it was, you saw Jesus as the missing key to your life. That revelation opens your eyes to Jesus. Philip introduced Jesus as “Jesus, son of Joseph.” Do not get me wrong, Philip had faith in Jesus, but you know, and I know Joseph is not the father of Jesus. If that were so, Jesus would be human. Unfortunately, many who profess faith in Jesus only believe Jesus is a human, son of Joseph. Saving faith, like Nathanael proclaimed, recognizes Jesus as the Son of God. What you see about Jesus opens your eyes.
Just as Nathanael’s faith in Jesus led to him seeing greater things, your faith in Jesus will open your eyes to greater things. The second revelation from this passage is how close you stay to Jesus the more your eyes will open to the greater things. When you stay close to Jesus, your heart begins to honestly seek and expect to see things you never dreamed possible. Daily living with Jesus trains your eyes to search for His fingerprints all over events, people, and places around you. Staying close to Jesus reveals He is your connection between earth and heaven, allowing you to see the big picture, that God is building His kingdom here.
BEYOND THE TEXT:
What brought you to Jesus? Whatever it was, you will see greater things if you stay close and press on in the faith. The power you have seen is only a drop in the bucket. Will you stay close to him?
Season 1 Episode 33, "Most important question." The text for the message is from Mark 8:27-30, part 1 of a series called The Son of Man. The question we are trying to answer is "What is the most important question?"